Why Not A Board To Manage Christian Property?


If the Govt is serious about checking the misuse of properties owned by the religious groups then it should have made a similar proposal for all the religious communities with no exception, opines Fr Anand Muttungal Madhya Pradesh has been in the forefront on many issues related to minorities. The debate over the formation of a Board Like Waqf Board to Manage Christian Property also originated from Madhya Pradesh. It all began in 2007 just after taking charge as the Christian member in the State Minority Commission came out with the idea of making a Board like that of Waqf Board to manage the Christian property. The matter never came up until the meeting of the commission held on 15th January this year before the Lokh Saba Election. The said meeting decided to send a proposal to State Government asking to bring all the property owned by Christian community through gift, lease, churches and cemeteries under a Board like Waqf Board Act 1995 for the purpose of control and administration. After strong protests by the Christians, the Government made it clear that it had no plan to make such a Board and the proposal is not in their knowledge. The issue became very hot again with a letter, dated 24th September 2009, by the District Education Officer of Jhabua asking the Bishop of Jhabua to furnish all the details of Christian property sighting the demand by the state minority commission.

Article 26 of the Constitution is very clear on this matter Freedom To Manage Religious Affairs Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; b. to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; c. to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and d. to administer such property in accordance with Law. It is clear from the Article 26 that the constitution of India guarantees freedom to every religious denomination that follows the law to own and administer properties and no one is allowed to interfere with the particular ownership and administration of such properties. When it comes to Catholic Church all its properties owned by gift, lease and purchased and even cemeteries are registered under Government regulations. The management of the property is done by a finance committee consists of experts in accounts, financial laws, financial planners etc. In the same way each church has a committee of elders to manage Church matters. Catholic Church appoints Internal and External auditors to check all financial matters. They are regularly audited and submitted to Government as per the law. It is clear any move by the Government to bring Church properties under any Board like Waqf Board or Temple Management Committee (Devasam Board) etc. will be a clear violation of the spirit of Article 26 of the constitution of India.

The origin of Waqf Board goes back to Muslim rulers and rich Muslims who donated land and property with the aim of maintaining mosques, tombs, orphanages, madrasas etc. It was a requirement from every wealthy Muslim to take care of the poor. They formed the Waqf (charitable trust) to administer the property. During the British rule it took a serious beat with corruption and creating family waqfs by wealthy Muslims to keep excess property within the family. So at the request of Mohammad Ali Jinnah the Waqf Validating Act of 1913 was introduced. At present there are around 300,000 registered Awqafs in India. The working of the Waqf Board mostly depends on governments which appoints the Chief Executive Officer, who works as the administrator along with the elected Chairman and minimum seven members. It is more or less in the same way the temple management committees too work. All these bodies are crippled with ample allegations of corruption.

If the Government is serious about checking the misuse of properties owned by the religious groups then it should have made a similar proposal for all the religious communities with no exception. Besides this there are many social organizations that have received lease property from Government and gifts from wealthy persons. So they all should be also brought under the ambit of the proposed Board. Then why should it single out the Christian community as if it is involved in huge land grabbing in the name of service? The argument of the Christian member of the state minority commission sighting isolated incidents that there are cases of illegal sale of Church properties this is purely a legal issue which need to be tackled legally. This is nothing but the government's fresh move to infiltrate into the well managed Christian establishment to gradually cut it wings, as it might have felt that a direct infiltration bid could have some adverse impact in the current political scenario. So it took the route of the minority commission and obviously its highly obedient Christian member who believed to be a RSS pracharak.

The land and other properties of the Catholic Church in the state is acquired either through lease or gifts or purchased are for specific purposes. Mostly they are used for education, health, worship, burial and for looking after the socially neglected people irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. Today they are after the Christians; tomorrow they will be after Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs and then other religious and social organizations. Therefore, it is a time for everyone to come together and defeat such nefarious effort of some vested interested persons to take us all for a ransom failing which we may have no answer to those dedicated persons who built it up for us and to the coming generations too.

Source: http://www.centralchronicle.com/viewnews.asp?articleID=17014